US Congress to shield Volkswagen and other Corporations from class action lawsuits

A bill currently before Congress would make it nearly impossible to launch class action lawsuits.  The VW Dieselgate scandal is begging for a class action lawsuit by vehicle owners who were all lied to by the Volkswagen Group, and all of whom have suffered economic damage from the scandal.  Additionally, we have all collectively suffered health and environmental damage from this scandal.

The bill, HR 1972 – Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2015 – would:

This bill amends the federal judicial code to prohibit federal courts from certifying any proposed class seeking monetary relief for personal injury or economic loss unless the party seeking to maintain such a class action affirmatively demonstrates that each proposed class member suffered an injury of the same type and scope as the injury of the named class representatives.

A court’s certification of such a class must include a determination, based on a rigorous analysis of the evidence presented, that the requirements of this Act have been satisfied.

This would make it immensely harder for a class action lawsuit to proceed.  The one news report I found about this bill on news.google.com (see links below) positioned it as a huge gift for Volkswagen.   While it is a gift to VW, and would help VW avoid the consequences of their actions, it is actually a huge gift for all Corporations.  If this becomes law it’ll be immensely harder to use the law to make corporations pay for their wrongdoing.

That there is so little news coverage of this is worrying to the extreme.

According to the Congress.gov, the last action was “11/05/2015 Placed on the Union Calendar, Calendar No. 249.”  However, a DailyKos post makes it clear the US Congress wants to put this bill to a floor vote.  The “Committee on Rules” will meet this week to put together “a structured amendment process for floor consideration of H.R. 1927, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2015.”  The notice by Rep. Pete Sessions gives instructions to any Congressperson wishing to file amendments.

Over on The Fiscal Times, this bill is positioned as a big bailout for Volkswagen.  And it may well help VW avoid paying the justified penalties for what they’ve done.  But its influence goes way beyond Volkswagen, because of how this law is vaguely worded.

Namely – this is the text of the law:

To amend title 28, United States Code, to improve fairness in class action litigation.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2015”.

SEC. 2. CLASS MEMBER INJURY REQUIRED.

(a) In General.—No Federal court shall certify any proposed class seeking monetary relief for personal injury or economic loss unless the party seeking to maintain such a class action affirmatively demonstrates that each proposed class member suffered the same type and scope of injury as the named class representative or representatives.

(b) Certification Order.—An order issued under Rule 23(c)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that certifies a class seeking monetary relief for personal injury or economic loss shall include a determination, based on a rigorous analysis of the evidence presented, that the requirement in subsection (a) of this section is satisfied.

 Nowhere in this does it name Volkswagen specifically.  Instead it describes a change in the law to make it immensely more difficult to certify a class action lawsuit.  Class action lawsuits cannot proceed as a Class Action unless the court can certify the class.  Therefore Corporate America will gain one more shield against legal means to make them pay for damages they cause.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.
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About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

2 Comments

  1. I do not practice class action law, but to my general understanding these factors are already elements that courts have to approve to certify a class (for way too much information: http://www.federalpracticemanual.org/node/42). I’m not sure that this legislation is different, or if it merely codifies that which was case law. It may enable conservative courts to tighten the class definitions even further.

    • Yes, I’m not one to blindly say there shouldn’t be procedures and requirements to launch a class action lawsuit. There are obviously abuses of that system. At the same time the rush to make things more business friendly (as the conservative politicians want to do) means the rest of us would have a harder defending ourselves against bad business practice.

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